Petra Vlhová: Relishing role of being an idol

Following her overall World Cup title, Petra Vlhová has confirmed herself as one of skiing’s biggest stars. The 26-year-old will be looking to win her first Olympic medal as she competes in her third Games – ten years after winning slalom gold at the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG).

Picture by Just Pictures

Petra Vlhová’s accomplishments at the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Innsbruck 2012 were an indication of great things to come for the multi-talented and determined Slovak alpine ski racer.

Vlhová, then 16, stormed to an impressive 1.49-second victory in the women’s slalom and narrowly missed medals in the giant slalom and super combined. Building upon that momentum, she added a junior world championship bronze in Italy and then proceeded to make her senior World Cup debut later that same season.

“It was a great experience, even though it was a long time ago,” says Vlhová of the YOG. “Innsbruck started my career off because I won the slalom and it was a big result for Slovakia. After that, I started to take more podiums.”

Nearly one decade on, Vlhová is now at the very top of her sport.

Last season she became the first Slovak to win an overall World Cup title, with the 26-year-old native of Liptovský Mikuláš, in north-central Slovakia, amassing six victories and ten podiums, outdistancing former World Cup champion Lara Gut-Behrami by 160 points and three-time defending champion Mikaela Shiffrin by 341. She demonstrated stamina and will, while taking on a gruelling schedule and competing in all 31 races.

Not overly flashy, loquacious or one who seeks attention, Vlhová aims to quietly go about her business in defence of her World Cup title over the months ahead, before turning her attention to her bid to win Slovakia’s first Olympic medal in Alpine skiing.

And she got her Olympic season off to a flying start winning back-to-back World Cup slalom races in Levi/Finland getting the better of Shiffrin twice.

Petra Vlhova
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Olympics.com: How proud are you of your accomplishments last season and do you believe your success is having an impact on the youth in your native Slovakia?

Vlhová: Last year, I was the best athlete in Slovakia, so I think many kids wanted to be like me, so they started to ski, which I like.

Hopefully I am an idol for them and they start to do some sports, especially Alpine skiing – for example we have Peter Sagan [Slovakia’s three-time cycling world champion] and a lot of kids started to cycle.

Maybe we are starting to become like an Alpine skiing country, but somebody else, not me, has to say this.

Considering that you will be working with a new coach, Mauro Pini, what do you think might be different this season as opposed to last, as you attempt to defend your World Cup title?

I changed my coach, so for me it will be a different season, yet like the same because the goals are almost the same. Last year, the goal was for the overall, this year’s main goal is going to be more for the Olympic Games, but also World Cup races. 

We will go more for quality than quantity, so we stay more quiet. We will compete in everything, but we will decide before races if we go somewhere, for example in speed or maybe focusing more on GS [giant slalom] and slalom.”

How important is it for you, and how much fun is it, to race more downhill events this season?

First, our goals and focus are more for slalom and GS, of course parallel and some speed. I like the speed and to race more downhill and super-G, but our priority will be more for GS and slalom.

As the defending overall World Cup champion, do you feel added pressure on your shoulders?

I don’t feel any big pressure – we will attempt to be quiet and focus on my skiing and do nothing more. Of course, everybody is talking that I won the overall last year and maybe I enter the season as the best woman in the world, but I’m trying to be calm and quiet.

Who do you expect to be your main opponents for this season’s overall title?

This year, of course, it will a tough season as before as there are a lot of girls who are strong. I don’t want to say names, but I think there will be a lot of girls fighting for the overall and the disciplines globes. I will try to be there at the top.

What are your hopes and expectations for what will likely be your third Olympic Winter Games, in Beijing in February?

Right now, I’m not thinking about the Olympics. This season we’ve decided to go more for quality than quantity, but maybe in December we will be quiet about it, but start preparing for the Olympic Games.

How do you approach and prepare for an Olympic Games, where no one has seen or raced on the slopes in China yet?

It’s going to be the same for everybody, so I don’t think anyone will have any advantage on these slopes. In my mind, I am focused on the World Cup races now and, when the time comes [for the Olympics], I will be ready to fight.

Over the last few years, many slalom skiers have turned to training indoors - have you also done so and would you like to see future races contested indoors?

I hope we will not have races indoors because I don’t like it too much, but every year I do some training sessions indoors. It is good for slalom, but not for GS. You can test some skis because we can have similar conditions. It is hard to ski there though, because when you are skiing indoors for two hours, it can feel like five hours being outdoors. However, it is good for training and sometimes I do it.

READ MORE: Petra Vlhova: "We are humans not machines"

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